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July 3, 2015

Letter To A Young Podcaster

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 6:42 pm

T –

Burnout is so real. ♥

And I am totally feeling you on the whole, “What’s the point of even writing if everything I have to say is just obvious shit that other people have already said a million times better?” I’ve been pretty deep down that well lately, myself (and my output has suffered for it.)

I spent like two hours last night reading fucking Reddit comments by this brilliant boy who was once a sort of philosophical compadre of mine, and basically being like, “Welp, he’s used the past ten years to continue developing intellectually and politically and maturing as a writer and a person and now look at this, even his Reddit comments are amazing. What have I done with the past decade? Basically let my mind go to waste. I’m a piece of shit.”

But the thing is, I know these feels are partly because I just haven’t been taking care of myself: exercise, eating right, sleep, that whole drill. And partly, it’s that the SCOTUS marriage decision last week hit me harder than I thought it would. I feel mired in this kind of inarticulate grief, not around the decision itself but around the entire trajectory of queer history that led up to it, and there’s nobody near me to talk to, cry on, or get drunk with who I think would understand. That’s what’s going on for me. I don’t know what’s going on for you. But it’s probably not that you’re a failed journalist with nothing to say. As much as (I’m pretty sure) it’s not true that I generate nothing but clumsy, self-indulgent sob stories. But sometimes “writer’s block” doesn’t just feel like you can’t write; it feels like you’ve never been able to write.

And it’s uncomfortable and unfortunate…but I suspect that going through periods where we hate everything we do is part of the writing process. That ability to dive head-first into deep, existential doubt about the value of our work is part of what encourages us to keep that work fresh, keep trying new things, keep questioning, not just pumping out the same old schlock on repeat year after year. There’s always the fear that, one of these times, the “I’m Not a Real Writer” boggart will show up and finally convince us to quit. To give up and fall back on whatever our fallback plan is. (Mine involves something like managing an auto-parts distribution center in Antarctica. Which, as fallback plans go, is still pretty weird.) But, if burnout is part of the cycle of creative work — especially political creative work like yours and mine — then you will eventually pick up a pen (or keyboard, or microphone) again and, at that point, the experience of being burned out, and what it felt like to give up, and everything you did and thought and felt and learned and succeeded and failed at while you were trying not to be a writer will be grist for the mill.

So no, don’t “take a break.” Don’t go away from writing as if writing is a job you have to go back to when your vacation days are up. Do something else. Tell yourself you never have to write again, at least not the way you’ve written in the past. Let yourself just marinate in that possibility for a minute and check out how it feels. You don’t have to reinvent yourself at 23. (That sounds like a lot of work.) But it’s okay to let go some of the convictions you have about who you are, or who you should be, or what your work should look like, and try something new.

I met a woman here in Albuquerque recently. She’s a writing professor. She studies fanfic. She asked me what I wanted to write, and I told her that I was sick of writing about politics but that I didn’t know how to write about anything else and anyway if I want to become a better writer it seems like I should stick with what I know. She pointed out that working in an unfamiliar genre can help improve your skills “at home.” Then she asked if I was interested in writing fiction, and I laughed. Who writes fiction? Only the talented.

Later, I went home and was laying in the bathtub, and found myself musing about the life stories of fictional characters I’d dreamed up years ago and never done anything with because I can’t write fiction. It felt REALLY GOOD. Who gives a shit if nobody else ever reads or cares about these characters? I like them and I like thinking about what they’re doing in the story in my head and why. Maybe I’ll even write it down sometime. Maybe not. Either way, I got up the next morning and was suddenly able to make progress on a political essay that I’d previously given up for dead.

Burnout is a combination of exhaustion, self-loathing, and boredom. Treat any one of those three, and the other two will start to subside. Try something easy. Try something hard. Try something totally unexpected. Write poetry. Read your old journals. Edit someone else’s screenplay. Do something you know you’re good at and haven’t done in a while. Go on a roadtrip and take a bunch of shitty photos with your smartphone and don’t show them to anybody else. Dig up drafts you scribbled on the backs of homework in high school and cut them up and collage them with magazine clippings and leave them on the bus. Give yourself permission to suck.

Of course, I’m talking to myself here as much as I’m talking to you. But I know you. We’ve built ideas together. I’ve listened to your words coming across the digital airwaves late at night in the dark. One reason I’m so drawn to your work is that, in certain ways, you remind me of myself. And so I know that even though there are sticky, murky, heavy times when you don’t feel like you can do this, you’re going to do it anyway. You can’t help it. You’re a writer. If you weren’t a writer, the thought of giving up on writing wouldn’t feel this bad. Burnout is just a sign that you need more material. Stop trying to write on empty and go do something, anything, that excites you. That’s what writing is about. The words will come. ♥

– R

P.S. And get out of Oklahoma. At least temporarily. IME, that place is where inertia goes to die.

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